Welcome back to my focal column here at Baseball Prospectus, The Stash List. I know, you’ve missed it. But for the 2014 season, we’re starting right from Week 1 with a first look at who you should be spending valuable reserve slots on in your league. For those of you not familiar with this column and the types of players who are included/excluded from it, I will now throw it out to past Bret to explain from April of 2013:
The purpose of it is to rank the top 25 players who are not active contributors to fantasy teams for 2013 only. Again, it does not take into account future value, which would result in a very different order. This list will include four different types of players, with specific restrictions attached:
Minor Leaguers: anyone currently in the minors. There is no ownership restriction for this category.
Major Leaguers on the DL: anyone current on the disabled list that is owned in fewer than 25 percent of leagues. The restriction is there to exclude obvious players like Hanley Ramirez or Zack Greinke, as I find it hard to believe they’d be on the wire in any leagues.
Closers-in-waiting: any reliever who is not actively getting saves and is owned in fewer than 25 percent of leagues. This excludes pitchers who are in “committees” and setup men who are widely owned for their own values, like Aroldis Chapman during April and May of 2012.
Others-in-waiting: any other player who is not currently active in the role that would net him the most fantasy value. This includes pitchers who are in line for a rotation spot but are not currently there, and position players who are not receiving regular playing time. These are players who would see a huge uptick in value from a change in role, like Kris Medlen in 2012.
Now that Opening Day is behind us and all non-active players are securely locked into either a disabled-list spot or a minor-league team assignment, it’s time to rank them because ranking things is the best. And when it comes to the particular ordering there are three things that needs to be properly taken into account: timeframe, impact and probability.
Timeframe itself is pretty self-explanatory. If Jon Niese is going to be back on Sunday and A.J. Griffin is going to be back in mid-May, Niese is going to be substantially higher—even though I do think their performances will be similar upon their respective returns. This comes into play with prospects too, as the free agency (late April) and Super Two (mid June) deadlines needs to be respected.
Impact needs as little of an explanation as timeframe does. George Springer may not be up until June, but he has the potential to do enough damage, just in those four months or so, to make him a top option here. On the other hand, a guy like Matt Harrison should be back far sooner, but his value in mixed leagues is spotty at best and an extra month and a half of him doesn’t move the needle.
Finally, probability is a tricky mistress. Will Nick Franklin get traded sometime this season? When will someone get injured to make room for Oscar Taveras in St. Louis? When will the White Sox realize that their no. 3 hitter is Conor Gillaspie? All questions toward which we may think we have an inkling, but we really don’t. It’s educated guesswork and we know it—thinking it’s otherwise will just give you unnecessary confidence in something you can’t control.
So anyway, with all that under our belts, let’s dive into The Stash List 1.0:
1) Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
A loud bang. A flash of lightning. He looks up and sees the sky opening to reveal the stars aligning themselves in a singular image. It looks blurry at first, but then the picture becomes as clear as can be. The face of Javier Baez sparkles and speaks: “Do not fear. I shall shepherd you out of the darkness and back towards the light. Just foll—damnit Junior, I’m not 20 feet tall!”
2) George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
Oh, what could have been if Springer had just signed the seven-year contract the Astros reportedly offered him during the winter. Of course, then he wouldn’t have qualified for this list. Springer has a legitimate chance to go 15/15 even if he comes up in June—though he’s much more attractive in OBP leagues than ones that use AVG.
3) Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Yesterday, the Pirates not only started Travis Snider in right field against a right-handed pitcher, but they hit him second. You tell me how quickly you expect to see Polanco up once it starts to make economic sense for the Pirates. And once he does get to Pittsburgh, between him, Andrew McCutchen, and Starling Marte, they’ll have the best defensive outfield in the game.
4) Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
It seems inevitable that the Mets will do the exact same thing with Syndergaard as they did with Zack Wheeler last year—wait until after the Super Two deadline for him to reach the big league team. Though the difference is that Syndergaard is more major league ready, hence the high ranking here. He could be a high performer immediately.
5) Oscar Taveras, OF, St Louis Cardinals
The talent is unquestioned, but Taveras’ durability is now the subject of growing whispers. If he can get a month or so of Triple-A time under his belt, the performance should speak for itself and the Cardinals’ roster will part like the Red Sea for him. His natural hitting ability could allow him to hit near .300 right off the bat—even if his power takes more time to show up in the box scores.
6) Jon Niese, LHP, New York Mets
This one is a little bit of a cheat, but he’s currently on the disabled list, and he’s under 25 percent owned. By all accounts, Niese will make his start on April 6, so this appears to be a one-and-done situation—if he can stay healthy the remainder of the year (and elbow inflammation is never something to take for granted with a pitcher), he can be a solid back-end option in nearly all leagues.
7) Jurickson Profar, 2B, Texas Rangers
Last year, Profar was the first player to occupy the no. 1 spot on this list. This year, he’s back, but in a much lower spot and for a much different reason. With his torn shoulder muscle, Profar is expected to be back in the first half of June and when he returns, he should be an immediate option in all leagues with average and some power and speed.
8) Josh Johnson, RHP, San Diego Padres
Who knows whether Johnson is going to come back when he’s supposed to, or stay healthy even after he comes back. It’s a fool’s errand trying to predict how much he will pitch. However, I do believe that for whatever time he is on the mound in San Diego, he’s going to be very good, so I’m not jumping ship here yet.
9) Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
10) Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
The top two pitching prospects on my Fantasy 101 list this year, Walker and Bradley both face different challenges in their quest to make their major-league debuts. For Walker, there’s a rotation spot with his name on it as soon as he’s over his shoulder inflammation—and he’s on the right path there, already making his minor league debut last week. But then again, shoulder injuries are nothing to take for granted. For Bradley, it’s about waiting his turn and taking the final step forward in his command. The stuff is unquestioned, but there’s as much potential for him to be a WHIP-destroyer at the major league level as a high-impact strikeout pitcher.
11) Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
The rotund third/first baseman is above all else a hitter. And with a declining, injury prone Ryan Howard and unproved Cody Asche at the corners ahead of him, it’s only a matter of time before Franco gets an opportunity. He could hit .270 with close to 15 homers if he were to get 400 plate appearances, and gets a nice bump as a right-handed bat in Citizens Bank Park.
12) Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins
13) Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Consider these two the poor man’s Walker and Bradley. Both are great prospects in their own right, they just don’t project as frontline starters. Heaney is likely to get the call before Taillon because the Marlins have no regard for service time issues and require little upper minors experience from many of their prospects. Taillon will likely take until after the Super Two deadline, but he carries better immediate strikeout potential. Fortunately, both will be pitching in very advantageous pitchers’ parks, so they get nice bumps in value for that.
14) Jesse Crain, RHP, Houston Astros
With the dreaded “committee” happening right now in Houston, there’s really not an attractive name to own in the bunch, but there is help on the way. Crain had a sub-1.00 ERA and made the All-Star team in 2013—and though they are feats that he’s unlikely to repeat in 2014, even a regressed Crain could scoop up 20 saves on a bad Astros team.
16) Derek Holland, LHP, Texas Rangers
It’s going to take longer for Holland to come back than most of these other names, but what he has going for him is that his injury is not to his throwing arm. Of course, it’s not like knees are important to pitchers, but it is more benign. If he can make it back before the All-Star break, he could still earn near double-digits.
17) Nick Franklin, 2B/SS, Seattle Mariners
The problem with Franklin is that we don’t know when he’s going to have value. If he had a starting job tomorrow, he’d immediately become a MI option in all leagues because of his all-around production potential. However, like Craig Goldstein and the Google alert he’s set up for his own name, we’re just left sitting around waiting.
18) Derek Norris, C, Oakland Athletics
I’m not going to dwell on Norris, as I put the reasons I expect him to win out as the starter in my Favorite Endgame Sleepers post from last week, but I do want to point out that John Jaso is projected to be the second worst framer in baseball according to the projections put out here yesterday. Norris doesn’t deserve this platoon fate.
19) A.J. Griffin, RHP, Oakland Athletics
It’s never good when a pitcher is on the shelf with an elbow injury, but with no structural damage, Griffin is looking at a mid-May return to Oakland. Once back, he should be as solid as always—making him an option in all sized leagues.
20) Carlos Martinez, RHP, St Louis Cardinals
Martinez makes this list for a combination of reasons. First of all, he’s next in line for the closer role if anything happens to Trevor Rosenthal. Secondly, he’s also a rotation option if Joe Kelly is finally revealed to be a pumpkin. Regardless of which way you lean, Martinez has the potential to be very valuable for fantasy this year if things break right for him.
21) Josh Beckett, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
I guess you could consider me a Beckett apologist. If he can get past this thumb issue, I expect him to put up solid ratios with a good chance at wins (as long as Brian Wilson doesn’t get called on to relieve him) in that rotation. Though health hasn’t been a strength of Beckett’s for a while.
22) Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
After losing the battle in Spring Training to Dustin McGowan, Stroman finds himself in Triple-A to start the season. He has some developmental work ahead of him, but there is likely to be a need before he’s 100 percent ready—making him a slightly risky proposition for 2014.
23) Matt Davidson, 3B, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox batted current third baseman Conor Gillaspie third in their lineup yesterday and they won the game. There are so many levels on which this makes no sense that I don’t even know when to start. Matt Lindstrom closed the game. This is baseball? Davidson will be needed and in short order, he’s just lower upside than most of the other names on this list.
24) Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
It was a rough 2013 all around for Singleton both on and off the field, but he’s looking to put all of that behind him and earn the first base job in Houston he wasn’t able to last year. Jumping over Marc Krauss and Jesus Guzman should not be the most difficult task in the world.
25) Alex Guerrero, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
With the Dodgers rolling the fearsome platoon of Dee Gordon and Justin Turner out there for April, they have to hope that Guerrero both gets healthy and shows to be an adequate defender at second base in short order. He’s not an elite option, but middle infielders don’t need to be elite to be useful.